I guess I might as well pulp all the waste paper that’s cluttering up my bookshelves. It’s old technology, outmoded, yesterday’s dross. From now on, my life will be lived vicariously on a screen. Here I sit at my computer all day, reading words on a screen. In the evening I’ll turn on the TV and look at people on a screen. If I want entertainment, I can play games on a screen. I can phone people and play ‘apps’ on a screen. And finally, the last piece in the jigsaw, I can read books on a screen!
OK, let me be honest here. I don’t own a Kindle, I don’t own an iPhone and I rarely watch TV. But I do like, love, adore, roll over on my back and kick my little paws in the air for the sheer joy of reading books. Books to me are not disposable items - browsed today, forgotten tomorrow. They are doorways into other people’s imaginations, repositories of knowledge and ideas, a means both of blotting out and illuminating the good, the bad and the hitherto unknown in life, the universe and everything. I give to a book far more attention than I give to the vast majority of the text that floats into and out of my vision each day on the screen of my PC. Books, in summary, are special. And I really, really don’t want to read them on a Kindle.
Electronic readers have their uses and I can imagine the day when I may even be tempted to buy one. I have no great desire to carry around a library of dictionaries, programming books and other reference works when I’m travelling. And a Kindle would be a wonderful way of taking masses of information without lugging around a trunk full of books. I can also imagine reading newspapers, magazines and (just about) short stories on a Kindle. But can I imagine settling down to enjoy a substantial novel by Dostoyevsky, Stieg Larsson or Stephen King? No I can’t. I can’t even imagine reading a shortish Ed McBain or P G Wodehouse novel on the thing.
To some extent, my prejudices have a practical basis: books are easier to read in the bath and they come in all different shapes and sizes appropriate to their content (a small pocket dictionary, a big glossy photographic guide to the plants of Madagascar etc.). But there is more than that. Books are a departure from the digital world in which I otherwise live. I take out a book when all the screens in my house are dimmed. I sit in an armchair, I find the place where I placed my bookmark, I carefully open to that page and I slowly sink myself into a world where only ink on paper stands between me and someone else’s version of reality.
In short, I love the medium as well as the message.
It’s significant that Amazon claims its Kindle eBooks are now outselling hardbacks. I suspect they have a long way to go before they outsell paperbacks. Hardbacks are, on the whole, rather expensive. And there are, to be frank, some pretty poorly made hardbacks around which are, to all intents and purposes, just paperbacks stuck between thick cardboard covers.
If only more hardbacks were properly bound and printed on good quality paper and sold at a reasonable price, maybe more people would buy them. If you want to enjoy a good hardback, I recommend that you try one from the Everyman series. You have a broad choice of authors - everyone from Dostoyevsky and Dickens to P G Wodehouse and Cormac McCarthy. I honestly find it very hard to believe that given the choice between one of those beautiful Everyman hardbacks and the Kindle version anyone would choose the Kindle one.